Bale hits four as Real crush nine-man Rayo 10-2

MADRID: Real Madrid closed to within two points of La Liga pacesetters Barcelona and Atletico Madrid when Gareth Bale helped himself to his first four-goal haul in a 10-2 demolition of nine-man Rayo Vallecano on Sunday.

Real bounced back in some style from last weekend's 1-0 defeat at Villarreal, with Karim Benzema netting a hat-trick and Cristiano Ronaldo scoring twice, but did not initially have it all their own way at the Bernabeu.

They were again whistled by some disgruntled home fans, who also targeted unpopular coach Rafa Benitez, after they fell 2-1 behind following a Danilo effort that put them 1-0 ahead in the third minute.

However, once Rayo lost Tito to a straight red card for a wild tackle on Toni Kroos in the 14th minute and Jose Raul Baena to a second booking 15 minutes later Real quickly restored their lead and went in 4-2 ahead at halftime.

"It's normal that the fans are unhappy as we are not in first place which is where we are obliged to be and where we want to be."

Real have 33 points from 16 matches in third place, with champions Barca and Atletico each on 35 ahead of Atletico's match at Malaga later on Sunday.

Barca beat River Plate 3-0 to win the Club World Cup earlier on Sunday and will play their game in hand at Sporting Gijon in mid February.

Fourth-placed Celta Vigo can trim the gap to Real back to two points with a win at Granada later on Sunday, before Villarreal, a point behind Celta in fifth, play at Real Sociedad.